For years I’ve looked at the small island near Kualoa Regional Park and always appreciated this picturesque gem seemingly close (actually 450 meters) offshore. While camping at the park, I would often gaze out and wonder what it would be like to explore the island, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Recently, I got a spark of motivation and decided it was time to check out this curious little isle.
The only realistic option I had would be to paddle on a surfboard, as I’ve heard many horror stories of people who tried to walk or swim and got caught in the high tide or strong currents. At the early stages of planning this adventure, I had no access to a kayak. I had a conversation with Roy, the owner of RV’s Ocean Sports, and asked about a shortboard rental because it could fit in my car. He chuckled and said that wasn’t a good option because a shortboard would sink below the surface, and he recommended getting something more buoyant like a nine-foot longboard. So I arranged for the board rental and to borrow surf racks, and things were starting to come together.
My two friends, Mia and Joe, committed to joining me, and the plan was truly taking shape. Then it morphed in a much better way. Mia got access to two kayaks and a pickup truck. So now there were three people, a means to transport our equipment, and a one-man and a two-man kayak. I checked the tide charts and figured the best time to go, which was at low tide, of course.
When we loaded up the kayaks in the back of the truck, we saw that they stuck out pretty darn far. Joe channeled his inner Boy Scout and crafted his own version of seafaring knots (which were genius) and safely secured the boats. We were on our way. After entering the park, we drove to the very last parking lot. We organized our gear and dragged the boats to the beach by the lifeguard stand.
There’s a protective barrier there for the swimmers, and it’s the perfect calm place to launch. Off we go! It was a nice low tide, and I noticed a couple of people walking out to the island, which would definitely take some time and require good swimming ability and necessitate a pair of reef shoes. I also saw one person on a stand-up paddle board. (There’s no doubt the wind and the choppy surface conditions of the water would make for a very-challenging crossing for a beginner-level SUP boardrider.)
The kayak paddle to the island only took about 20 minutes. In addition to the wind and chop, there were small waves when we got closer to the island, big enough to flip a kayak if they hit just right, so I had to navigate at a careful angle. Paddling through the rippling water and chop was a workout, especially going against the wind. The reef bottom was visible just a few feet below the surface the entire way.
Arriving at the rocky beach, we stowed and secured the boats with a rope, as they could float away when the tide started to roll in. After we landed, a young couple, both perhaps around 18 y.o., came in after us. They were on a shortboard. I asked them about their trip over, and they said it had been pretty difficult. He paddled and she held on to the back of the board and kicked. All they had with them was the swim suits on their bodies and bare feet. No shoes. No drinking water. Nothing. But they climbed to the very top of Mokoli’i and gingerly walked across the lava rocks in their shoeless feet to swim at the beach on the other side. Ahhh…to be so young and carefree.
Directly above where the kayaks are on the beach is where the trail to the top of the “Hat” begins. I forgot to time how long it took to get to the top, but it couldn’t have taken longer than 20 minutes. Including the trip up, the time spent at the top and trekking back down took an hour. The trail is pretty easy until that last stretch right before the top. Yikes! Rock climbing is involved. Fear of heights; not acceptable. Joe scaled ahead to see if there was any easier route. Nope. So up we VERY CAREFULLY climbed. While looking for solid grips in the rock and good footholds, I wondered to myself, “How the heck am I going to get down?”
Once at the top the panoramic view is amazing. You can see Kaneohe Bay and the sandbar, the Ko’olau mountain range, Moli’i Pond, Kualoa Regional Park, and the big beautiful turquoise open sea.
Now the going down part. Joe seemed to have no trouble maneuvering. He stood below us, and one by one he directed where we could put our hands and feet to climb down. Without his help, I don’t think I could have done that alone. We were a little shaky, but Joe was able to guide us safely back to the trail.
Once on the beach again, we decided to check out the other side of the island. Within five minutes we were at a nice little cove on the oceanside that was great for a swim. By this time, and on a Saturday, there were quite a few other people on the island as well as three dogs. We swam, relaxed, and enjoyed the lunch we had brought along. The time came to make our way back to Kualoa Beach. The return trip only took ten minutes.
It didn’t seem much easier but sure was faster. We had a fabulous day of adventures on Chinaman’s Hat. I’m so happy we were able to kayak out, because it would have been difficult to bring lunch, etc., on a longboard. I finally can look at Mokoli’i Island and know I’ve stood on the very tip of the hat.
I recommend the experience with several bits of advice: (1) Make sure you start at low tide; (2) wear reef shoes, your feet will thank you when you’re standing on coral and lava rocks; (3) bring water and a snack to enjoy on the island; (4) bring your phone in a waterproof bag made for electronic devices if you want to take pictures; and (5) put on your big-boy pants and go for the climb!